HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We saw all of your complaining last week when we praised the Los Angeles Clippers for finally stepping up and trying to court the rabid hoops fan base that’s been sitting in their backyard for decades. We read all the digs Lakers fans delivered and processed each and every swipe.
But we’re also well aware of what goes on when a true superstar is added to the mix of an up and coming team and just how important it is to have the right quarterback in today’s NBA. That’s why we’re still watching the Clippers’ every move, and ignoring the venom.
Sunday’s Clippers-Trail Blazers game offered up the perfect case study on the importance of the right point guard for the right situation, as both Chris Paul of the Clippers and Raymond Felton of the Trail Blazers displayed their wares, and why the Clippers must be taken seriously with Paul at the helm.
Paul has the ability to take over games in ways that only a select few players in the league can. He was brilliant down the stretch against the Trail Blazers, executing on both ends of the floor as he and his crew handed the Trail Blazers’ their first loss of this season.
Faced with losing a 17-point lead over Portland on Sunday in a game the Clippers considered a measuring stick of their progress after being spanked by San Antonio and Chicago, Paul simply took over and refused to let them lose.
He steadied his teammates’ nerves with his poise, elated them with his shotmaking and wowed them with his ability to win a crucial jump ball against a five-inches-taller Jamal Crawford with 4.3 seconds left.
If not for his leadership the Clippers would not have celebrated their first home victory this season, a gutsy 93-88 decision over the Trail Blazers that inspired the crowd to chant his name in tribute for what figures to be the first of many times.
“Great players can not only make shots but, more importantly, make plays,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said, “and Chris can do both. That’s what makes him special.”
Lost in the aftermath of Paul’s dazzling performance is the fact that Felton has provided the perfect match for Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan, who has run through a long list of point guards during his tenure. It’s one of the only criticism we have of McMillan, a longtime HT fave.
But He seems to have found a kindred spirit of sorts in Felton, as Jason Quick of the Oregonian explains:
He has argued with Andre Miller. Broken Sebastian Telfair and benched Jarrett Jack.
Being a point guard under Nate McMillan is no easy task.
So imagine what must be going on inside the Trail Blazers’ locker room the past two games after point guard Raymond Felton has coughed up the ball four times against Denver and then, on Sunday, a whopping six times in a 93-88 loss at the Los Angeles Clippers.
Another blowup? A benching on the horizon?
Not even close.
In one of the more interesting developments in this early Blazers season, there appears to be a budding relationship developing between McMillan and Felton, his new point guard acquired in a trade this summer.
McMillan has given Felton the ultimate sign of trust this early season, changing the team’s entire style of offense to fit the uptempo skills of Felton. In turn, he has also held him accountable, pointing out in front of the team that the point guards need to take better care of the ball than they have in the last two games against Denver and the Clippers.
“Did it in front of everybody,” Felton said. “But I can take that. I don’t care if he singles me out in front of everybody. I can take that type of criticism because it’s true. But at the same time, with him being a former point guard, he understands that I’m not out there kicking the ball. I’m trying to make plays. He understands the effort is there.”
Said McMillan: “I’ve learned you don’t have to beat them down. They know what they are doing out there, and that they are better than that.”
If the Trail Blazers are finally to become the up-tempo outfit McMillan has been promising the past few years, they’ll do it with Felton at the controls.
Sometimes it takes that simple yet critical tweak for a team to reach its full potential.
The right point guard in the right place at just the right time!